Cantor only ever wanted one thing: to be a realm walker – to travel from one plane to another, helping, discovering, adventuring, with an impressive dragon by his side.
All right. He wanted two things. One he will certainly get.
One Realm Beyond is the first book in Donita K. Paul’s Realm Walkers series. The shape-shifting mor dragons are a classic fantasy element, but overall the book had sci-fi flair to it. The “realms” were given a more or less sci-fi explanation; even the special powers of the realm walkers struck me as more superhuman than supernatural.
The setting of this novel completely engaged me. I enjoyed the various bits of technology, I enjoyed the political intrigue and the educational “rounds”, I enjoyed the fantasy mix of races – dragons and humans and Brinswikkers. I enjoyed the idea of the realms and the realm walkers.
The characters were even more engaging. Bridger and Bixby charmed me at once, and the more I saw of Totobee-Rodolow, the more I appreciated the uniqueness of her character – supremely confident, supremely knowledgeable, and almost exaggeratedly feminine. Cantor was the straight man of the foursome, which made him less flashy but not less needed. Somebody has to be normal
One of the interesting pieces of this story is how the dynamics between the two young realm walkers and their dragons work out. Cantor is persuaded to accept a dragon as a “temporary constant” (now there’s a contradiction in terms), and Bixby persuades a dragon to accept her as a temporary constant. Bixby ends up with the sort of dragon – elegant and sophisticated – that Cantor dreamed of having, and Cantor gets an offbeat, diversely talented dragon who is much more like Bixby than himself.
Religion was a persistent theme of the story, but by no means an overstated one. Primen (their name for God) is mentioned a good number of times, but always in ways that seem natural to the characters and their situations. (In a brief but fascinating moment of complexity, a character who has been studying “Primen’s Guide” denounces realm-walking as witchery.)
One chapter revolves around going to sanctuary – an obvious church equivalent. And what is interesting about that is that even fantasy novels with religion generally have no church equivalent. Going to church (or the synagogue, temple, etc.) is such a constant in real-life religion, and so rare in fantasy-world religion, that I have to congratulate Donita Paul for the chapter.
The plot of One Realm Beyond moved only gradually to the main point; it took a while for the story to find its dramatic center. I noticed this as I read, but it never really bothered me. I was enjoying myself anyway. It is such a fun book, such a light-hearted book, with entrancing characters and a terrific setting. I like fantasy, and I like sci-fi, and I hold a special fondness for well-done science fantasy – which is what One Realm Beyond is.